The Truth About the Lottery


A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random to determine winners. It is also a method of raising money, especially for public services such as education and housing. Many of the world’s most prestigious universities are largely funded by lotteries. The word is derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate,” or “distribution by lot.”

Whether you win the Powerball or not, most people spend more than $80 billion on lotteries every year. Often, that amount of money would be better spent on an emergency fund or paying off credit card debt. But even if you did win, you should be careful: There is a real risk of winning big and losing it all. Some lottery winners have been murdered, kidnapped, or killed themselves. Others have found themselves in serious legal trouble. And, in some cases, there have been strange stories like Abraham Shakespeare, who bought a ticket for $31 million and was found dead nine years later, or Urooj Khan, who dropped dead of cyanide poisoning after winning a comparatively modest $1 million.

The roots of the lottery go back centuries, but in America, the games were originally used to avoid taxes and help build the new country. In fact, the Continental Congress created a lottery to raise funds for the Colonial Army at the outset of the Revolutionary War.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run lotteries. The only six that don’t are Alabama, Utah, Mississippi, Nevada, and Hawaii—probably because they don’t need to raise money for public projects. And while those who play the lottery may be helping to support education, veterans assistance, and environmental programs, the vast majority of their proceeds go to the state governments that sell the tickets.

While lottery revenue is good for state coffers, it’s not a panacea. Study after study has shown that lottery ticket sales tend to be disproportionately concentrated in neighborhoods with low-income residents, minorities, and those struggling with gambling addiction. And even if you win, there are tax implications that can take away much of your prize.

In other words, the lottery is an unreliable way to get something you need or want—and it’s not even fair. It is a system that can be corrupted by greed, deception, and manipulation, and it can make you believe that your fate is in the hands of strangers.

At HACA, when we hold a lottery to place wait list applicants into our properties, everyone has an equal chance of being selected. Your application date or preference points don’t affect your chances of being selected, nor does the number of applications in the lottery pool. If you are not chosen in the lottery, you can re-apply when the next lottery opens. For more information about our lottery, please visit our lottery page.